Read Smart Girls Think Twice Online

Authors: Cathie Linz

Tags: #Romance, #Man-Woman Relationships, #Pennsylvania, #Single Women, #Contemporary, #General, #Sociologists, #Fiction, #Love Stories

Smart Girls Think Twice (9 page)

BOOK: Smart Girls Think Twice
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“So I’ve heard. You be careful, lil sis. Don’t get in over your head with this hottie,” Leena warned.

Too late
, Emma thought to herself.

Jake saw it all in gruesome detail. Felt it. Not the fear. That came later. Just the horror. And the utter helplessness.

He, Andy, and a buddy of Andy’s had reached the summit and were making their descent.

The snow-covered spires possessed a severe haunting beauty. It happened so fast. One second Andy was above him, the next he was consumed by a huge wall of ice, rock, and snow that rolled down the mountain without warning, swallowing everything in its wake.

Jake woke in a cold sweat. His stomach ached. His arms were trembling. The nightmare was never the same. Sometimes it was of the avalanche. Sometimes of the terrible aftermath of Jake trying to crawl off the mountain with his serious injuries, alone until he caught up with Andy’s buddy. Sometimes the cold woke him. Sometimes the pain. But always the guilt.

Jake knew the drill by now. Knew he wouldn’t be able to get back to sleep. So he went out running.

Jake had always had a need for speed. He could still remember how, as a real little kid, he’d been able to fly down the mountain. It was the fastest he’d ever gone. From that moment on, he was hooked.

He’d experienced it all—from the grueling pace of an XTERRA triathlon to the joy of heli-skiing.

From hang gliding to bungee jumping. He’d even driven a Formula One race car around the track. But he always returned to the mountains.

There were no jagged peaks surrounding Rock Creek. Instead there were gentle hills interspersed with a few rugged ones. He’d explored a number of them in the short time he’d been here. They were child’s play compared to the challenges he’d mastered before. But he wasn’t the man he’d been before. He was scarred—inside and out.

The doctors had initially told him that he might not walk again, then that he’d always have a limp.

He’d proved them wrong on both counts. Numerous surgeries over the past eighteen months had repaired much of his physical injuries but none of the emotional damage.

The nightmares were proof of that. There was no escaping them, no matter how fast he ran, or how long. He ran for one mile, then two . . .

“Woof!”

Jake slowed down at the nearby sound of a dog barking.

“Woof.”

Jake stared into the darkness, trying to figure out where the noise came from. Everyone was sound asleep in their beds, probably next to their dogs. There had been no signs of life during his 4 a.m. run. Until now.

“Woof.”

The bark was louder this time and sounded as though it was coming from behind him. He turned in time to see a row of sharp, glistening teeth charging right at him.
Shit!

He backpedaled and fell on his ass in the grass along the road.

A half second later the dog was on him, licking his face and drooling all over him.

“Yuck.” Jake turned his head to avoid the doggy spit. “Get off me, you big mangy ass.”

“Woof.”

“Whoa.” Almost overcome by the bad doggy breath, Jake waved his hand in front of his face.

“You need some mouthwash, mutt. Get off.”

He shoved but the mutt ignored him.

So he tried something else. “Sit.”

The mutt sat. Right on Jake’s privates.

Swearing vehemently, Jake managed to dislodge the dog and scramble to his feet, although not as quickly as he would have under normal conditions. Gritting his teeth, he tried to walk it off, unable to stand straight for several minutes.

The dog sat and watched. The animal didn’t seem to have any kind of collar or tags to indicate it belonged to someone.

“So you think this is funny, do you? Well, I don’t. So get out of here.”

“Woof.”

“Do not follow me.”

The dog immediately disobeyed orders.

Jake stopped.

The mutt stopped.

Jake started running.

The mutt ran alongside him.

“Woof.”

“Shut up,” Jake growled. “Do not talk to me.”

The dog shut up but kept running beside him right to the door of Jake’s building.

“Don’t give me that look. You are not coming inside.” Standing in the pool of light provided by the building’s security lamp, Jake could see the mutt’s ribs standing out.

Jake started running again, this time to the Gas4Less Mini-Mart three blocks away, open twenty-four hours. “Do you sell dog food?”

“Sure. Aisle two.”

Jake bought a small bag with the few dollars he had on him.

“That your dog outside?” the male teenage cashier asked.

The mutt sat right next to the door, looking in at him. “No, he’s not mine. Do you know who he belongs to?”

“Looks like he belongs to you now. Hey, aren’t you that extreme sports guy?”

“No.” Jake took the dog food and headed out, back to his apartment building. He opened the bag in the alley and then realized he didn’t have a container to pour the dry food into.

No problem. The mutt stuck his head in the bag and started scarfing it all down.

“This doesn’t mean we have a relationship or anything,” Jake told the dog. “So don’t go making more of this than it is. I’m not looking for a pet. I’ve never taken care of a pet and I’m not starting now. No ties for me. You’ve got the wrong guy here. Go find that vet guy Cole. I bet he’d find a home for you.”

The mutt kept eating.

Jake slipped back inside the apartment building, refusing to look back. Looking back never solved anything.

Chapter Six

Emma’s
morning ritual included her daily practice of tai chi, which she always did wearing her good-luck running shorts and navy Penn T-shirt. The exercise was meant to calm her, to start her day with the energizing and healthy effect of something that dated back two thousand years. It wasn’t meant to make her think about sex.

Not just random sex. Specific sex. Sex with Jake.

She’d seen him twice since walking into Nick’s Tavern. And both times she’d kissed him instead of asking if he was going to participate in her research study.

Emma wasn’t researching the elements of first kisses. Or of outstanding kisses. Or of kisses that made you want to have sex. There was no reference whatsoever to kisses on the carefully crafted questionnaire she’d prepared for all the study participants. She was here to study the resurgence of her hometown, not to make out with the town’s hottie.

She wasn’t about to fall into a fit of dork mania over Jake the way Ted had at Comic-Con over that gray-haired actor who’d played Doctor Who for so many years. She wasn’t a groupie. She was smart. Most of the time. So where had she gone wrong here?

She slowly changed positions into her next tai chi move. She was supposed to be meditating now.

Not trying to analyze her illogical hormone-driven behavior.

The thing was, she couldn’t seem to get Jake out of her mind. He’d taken up residency there come hell or high water.

Today was the bridal shower. Sue Ellen’s wedding was only one week away. Emma’s dress today was a favorite of hers—a floral jersey dress with a flared A-line skirt and ruching at the waist. The only reason Emma knew it was called ruching was because her fashionista sister Leena had told her before approving of her wardrobe choice.

Thinking of wardrobe choices reminded Emma of the over-the-top bridesmaid dress she had to wear to Sue Ellen’s wedding. She only now realized that Jake would see her in that Pepto-Bismol pink dress with the big butt bow. That was so wrong on so many levels.

Maybe she could change into something else at the reception being held at the Serenity Falls Country Club. The wedding ceremony was taking place on the stage of the Tivoli Theater, but Jake didn’t have to come to that.

He should just come to the reception.

Just thinking about standing on that stage in that nightmare dress almost made Emma hyperventilate. She had to do another half hour of tai chi before she calmed down. On her way to the shower, she realized her garbage can was full so she ran it downstairs and out to the alley. But first she grabbed her cell and clipped it to her waist, something she’d learned during her self-defense class.

Once Emma was out in the alley, she saw what looked like a big pile of dark rags on the far side of the Dumpster. Then the pile moved. It was a dog. A very skinny dog.

“Oh, you poor baby.” Emma immediately reached for her cell and called Cole. It was early enough that the animal clinic wasn’t open yet, but she reached him at home.

He arrived within minutes. “What’s going on?”

“This poor dog needs your help.”

The dog didn’t growl or snarl, but just barely lifted its head to look at them. Until the building door opened and Jake came out. Then the dog leapt to life as if it had been supercharged by the Energizer Bunny.

“Is this your dog?” Cole asked.

“Hell no.” Jake was emphatic. “It’s a stray. Followed me home during my run in the middle of the night. I gave it some dog food. I was just bringing it some water too.”

“Looks like this guy likes you,” Emma said.

“Yeah, women and dogs just fawn at my feet,” Jake said with dry humor.

“Then you’re the perfect guy to foster the dog until he regains some strength,” Cole said.

“Trust me, he’s plenty strong. I don’t want any part of fostering. The foster system sucks.”

“Actually people have saved a lot of animals’ lives by fostering them until good homes can be found,” Cole said.

Emma immediately noticed the change in Jake even before he spoke.

“And if good homes aren’t found? If no one wants them? Then what?” Jake said. “Besides, I don’t even know how long I’m going to be hanging around here.”

That last revelation hit Emma like a 3 a.m. wake-up call. What was she doing kissing Jake when he could be gone tomorrow?

Maybe it would be best if he did leave
, a little logical voice inside her head lectured.
Then
he wouldn’t rock your boat. You could return to the status quo. You wouldn’t have to worry
about convincing him to participate in your research study. And you wouldn’t have to
worry about him seducing you into his bed only to have him take off on you.

Just because Jake kissed her didn’t mean he wanted to have sex with her, although the fiery heat of his kisses seemed to indicate otherwise. But how many other women had he wanted . . . and gotten? How many other women had he kissed so expertly, so passionately?

Dozens? Hundreds?

All the stress reduction her morning tai chi had accomplished was erased in a heartbeat.

Jake saw the way Emma was looking at him, with a new cynicism. And for some stupid reason that was all it took for him to back down and reluctantly agree to take in the dog.

“Come on over to the clinic with me and I’ll look him over,” Cole said.

The dog backed away from Cole, who then handed the collar and leash to Jake. “Here, you try it.”

Mutt practically put the collar on himself, so eager was he to get close to Jake.

When Jake looked up, he expected Emma to look at him with respect and admiration after his heroic dog deal, but she was still looking a little cautious. Cautious was better than cynical.

Mumbling something about needing to get ready for a bridal shower, Emma turned and hurried away, giving him a nice view of her curvy butt in a pair of shorts. His first impression had been right. She had great legs.

“So Emma is bringing you to the weddings?” Cole said.

“Yeah.”

“Providing you haven’t left town.”

“I’m not leaving before the weddings,” Jake said.

“You and Emma seem to be getting along well in a short period of time.”

Jake made no comment.

“Roy claims he saw you and Emma making out on the fire escape.”

Again Jake made no comment.

“Look, here’s the deal,” Cole said. “I’ve been pressured into talking to you about Emma.”

“Pressured?”

“Yes. By my fiance-soon-to-be-wife. Emma’s sister Leena. She’s worried you might hurt Emma.”

“So what did Leena tell you to do? Warn me off?”

“Just warn you to be good to Emma. She’s from the academic world and doesn’t have a lot of streetwise experience.”

Jake didn’t totally agree with that assessment. Emma might not have his kind of street smarts, but she was no naive dummy.

“I think you’re all underestimating Emma,” Jake said.

“Just consider yourself warned,” Cole said.

“Understood. And this dog deal is only temporary,” Jake said.

Cole just grinned as if he knew better.

“Maybe the dog has some kind of chip or something that will tell you who his owner is,”

Jake said.

“I will certainly check that out.”

Half an hour later, Cole’s examination in the animal clinic was complete. “No chip. Other than needing food, he seems in good shape. We need a name for the dog.”

“Mutt.”

“We need a name for the mutt.”

“No, that’s his name. For now,” Jake clarified. “Until he gets a real owner, I mean.”

“Right.”

“Woof.”

Jake realized neither the vet nor the dog sounded convinced . . . he just wasn’t sure what to do about it.

The good news was that since her sisters had combined their showers, Emma had to live through the experience only once. The bad news was just about everything else.

Okay that was a total exaggeration, but Emma was feeling pretty damn cranky. The party was actually going very well. The crab puffs made by Cole’s cousin, who was catering the event, were delicious and hadn’t made Sue Ellen hurl. The lobby of the Tivoli looked lovely. Emma hadn’t really noticed the fine details when she’d interviewed Skye, but now she paused to appreciate the elegant ornateness of the architecture, the glistening pair of chandeliers, and the intricately inlaid marble floors. The center of the large lobby showcased a series of round tables covered in white tablecloths with floral centerpieces of pink and white roses along with small calligraphied name tents at each place setting.

No, the problem wasn’t the food or the decorations. The problem was the bridal shower guests—and the things they were saying to Emma.

BOOK: Smart Girls Think Twice
6.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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